Category : Author Interviews

Jay Noel is one of my bloggy buddies and though I have yet to meet him in person, I feel like we would get along quite well. We both share a Filipino heritage, a love for steampunk and martial arts—and cookies.

Here’s his author bio:

After doing some freelance writing and editing for more than a dozen years, Jay decided to stop procrastinating and pursue his dream of being a novelist. He’s been blogging for over eight years, and even had a comedy podcast syndicated all over the internet. All of that was fun, but all the steampunk-inspired stories in his head just wouldn’t leave him alone. Jay spends his days working in medical sales, but he can be found toiling over his laptop late at night when all is quiet.

He draws inspiration from all over: H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Shakespeare, Ray Bradbury, Douglas Adams, and Isaac Asimov.

And Jay loves cookies.

Jay Noel’s website:



Without further ado, I present the unstoppable Jay Noel!


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The Unstoppable Jay Noel

1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself.

1. I have the exact same birthday (month, day, year) as actress Alyssa Milano

2. I have a fear of heights

3. I played NCAA Division I tennis

2. What books and movies inspired your love for Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Would you ever consider writing in another genre?

My very first book that I loved as a child was Ma Lien and the Magic Paintbrush, and that started my love of mythology. I also grew up reading H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Robert Cormier, S.E. Hinton, and Shakespeare. Like most kids born in the 70s, I have to say that Star Wars was a HUGE part of my childhood.

 I’d definitely love to write in another genre, as I’m drawn to Young Adult Contemporary books.


3. Are you a full time writer, if not, what is your current occupation? What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

No, I’m not a full time writer. I’m a medical sales rep in the optical industry. It’s fascinating stuff, as I love science and medicine. In 2005, I started writing about the funny and strange side of science, and it rekindled my love for writing. Throughout my life, I had started and stopped…queried and got rejected…and blogging brought me back to it. So in 2011, I decided to change the format of my blog and really dedicate myself to writing.


4. Tell us about your path to publication.

In 2012, I received a contract for Dragonfly Warrior from a small press. It was a monumental victory for me, but alas, things didn’t work out. The publisher shuttered its doors, and I was back into the “query-world.” But I was offered a contract by another small press, and after my manuscript was about 75% done by the editors and getting cover art for my book, the publisher started going through some pretty huge financial issues. So I asked for my rights back (I had contracts for Dragonfly Warrior and its sequel, Shadow Warrior), purchased the cover art from them, and decided to go full-on indie.

It’s been a long road for sure, filled with bumps and bruises, but it was such a learning experience, I have no regrets about my journey to publication.

5. What is the coolest thing about being an indie author?

I mostly enjoy the autonomy that goes along with it. I’m writer first, business owner a close second. Being indie allows me to really experiment with what I do and change things at a moment’s notice if something isn’t working. I love the flexibility and the freedom.

6. Where did you get the idea to write DRAGONFLY WARRIOR?

Back in 2007, I was day dreaming while waiting to visit with a doctor, and a vivid action scene popped into my head. I wondered if I could write a novel around that one little spark of an idea, so I wrote it out. And I knew I had something special.

I wanted to write something different, yet something familiar enough to resonate with readers. I love science fiction and fantasy, so I decided to combine the two. When I first started drafting the novel, I had no idea that there was a word for the genre that I was writing in. When I learned that my story was totally steampunk, it was like seeing the face of Elvis in the desert…it was a huge epiphany. The world opened up, and I was relieved that there was an actual market for what I was writing.

7. The world in DRAGONFLY WARRIOR if full of mythical influences, most notably Asian in nature. What inspired this setting, and how did you go about building this world?

Like I said, world mythology was one of my very first influences, so I drew from the stuff I love: Asian, Greek, Norse, and Arthurian. I wanted to combine all of this, all wrapped up in a steam-powered world at the height of its own industrial age. I wanted to really explore the social and political implications of such a wonderful, yet terrible time in history. The reader will easily catch many of the historical references I make in my alternate version of the 19th century.

There’s enough of the fantastical to call Dragonfly Warrior science-fantasy, but there’s some underlying messages there harkening to the real world.

Dragonfly Warrior is very much an epic story much in the style of the classics I love so much like The Odyssey and King Arthur, but with a strong Asian influence.

 jay noel

8. DRAGONFLY WARRIOR is the first book in your MECHANICA WARS TRILOGY. When do the other two books come out? Do you plan any other books in the world of Zen?

The second book, Shadow Warrior, is scheduled for publication on June 5th of this year. Iron Warrior, the third and final book of this “Warrior Trilogy” will come out before the end of 2014. So yeah, I promise to not make my readers wait too long after reading the first book.

I have plans to write another trilogy set in this world, tentatively titled The Cloud Hugger Chronicles. I’m excited about continuing to push steampunk into the realm of multicultural literature.

9. If you could spend one day with any character in your series, who would it be?

If I could have assurances that I wouldn’t be maimed or killed, I’d love to hang out with the gruff, but likeable pirate Zapitoni. He was supposed to be just a minor character, but all my beta readers LOVED him. So Zapitoni comes back in Shadow Warrior, and he plays an even bigger part in Iron Warrior.

10. If your trilogy were optioned for film which scene from THE DRAGONFLY WARRIOR would you be most interested in seeing live on the big screen?

Wow. Great question. It would have to be when the raiders, led by the renegade Cheng, attack the native tribe’s fortress. I can imagine a steam-powered locomotive just barreling towards the massive wall during the attack. That was so much fun writing, and it’s so visual, that I’d have to see that on the big screen for sure.

11.  What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

Since I don’t write full time, my writing time is regulated to late at night when all is quiet. I often write to music (instrumental only). I enjoy movie scores on Pandora. Helps get me in the mood. The amount of writing I do varies. Sometimes, I’ll pump out a thousand words or more in a day, other times, just a couple hundred. I’m an active participant of NaNoWriMo, and that helps keeps me productive during a very hectic time of year.

12.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  Any hobbies, sports, or crafts you like to spend time on?

I just took up cooking. It’s amazing, because I was the kind of person that feared the kitchen. But I decided to make some big lifestyle changes and improve my health, so I’ve been forced to get in there and prepare my own meals. So these days, I’m always on the hunt for healthy recipes.

After a long hiatus, I would also like to step back onto the tennis court. Although I long to compete, I’d like to play just for fun and to stay active.

I have three kids, so I’m pretty busy with all of their activities too.

13.  Are you currently working on any other projects?

Other than my Mechanica Series, I’m also working on a YA paranormal/horror novel with Miranda Hardy. It’s been awesome collaborating with another writer, and we hope to have it published just in time for Halloween.

14. What tips or techniques can you give writers who wish to write in the Steampunk Genre? How about writers who wish to write a series?

I think reading as much as you can in both the classics (H.G. Wells) and the newer stuff (Cherie Priest, Scott Westerfield) will help. What’s great is that the genre is ever-changing and growing. Steampunk is not a fad, and it will continue to evolve – especially beyond Victorian England.

15. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication? What advice would you give to writers who wish to follow the indie path?

I’d say the best advice, other than the typical “keep writing” recommendations, is to grow thicker skin. Rejection and heartache is not fun, but without all that PAIN, I don’t know where I’d be today. So many writers these days take shortcuts, and the self-publishing platforms available make it so easy to just hit publish. Seek beta readers that are NOT your friends and family. Get your work professionally edited. Blow up your manuscript and rebuild it.

This business can be cruel, and I see a lot of writers whine and complain. Whether it’s criticism from a beta reader or negative reviews of their novel, writers just aren’t as “tough” as they used to be. Those who have been able to handle all the years of rejection seem to be more resilient.

It might hurt now, but it will make you better in the end.

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Come back this Friday for the final part of the Spotlight Week, where I give away a copy of DRAGONFLY WARRIOR.

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The July 2013 release of THE GHOST marked the end of author Christine Rains’ paranormal romance series, the 13th Floor.

But being the marketing genius that she is, Christine has decided to release all six books as part of a collection.

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To celebrate the release of the 13th Floor Collection, author Christine Rains shares with us some tips on writing urban fantasy.



 Urban fantasy takes the magic and strange creatures from epic fantasy worlds and mashes them into our normal everyday modern lives. Sometimes it’s a ridiculous or inelegant smooshing of different elements, but that’s what makes urban fantasy so much fun. You can go over-the-top and get away with it. In fact, readers love surprises like that.

Even though you can get silly and it’s fantasy, the story still needs to make sense. Magic needs to have rules. There must be reasons why dragons still exist. Here are some tips to help make your urban fantasy universe come alive and make readers wonder if there really is still magic hidden beneath our technological world.

1) Take things we see in our every day lives and make them something more. Your toaster burns cryptic messages on your toast to warn you of danger, or Starbucks is really run by a secret organization of mages putting potions in the coffee so they can rule the world.

2) Twist a point in history and create a world from that change. World War II was won by elves determined to keep the humans from blowing up the planet, or when the Europeans came over to the Americas, they discovered a land of centaurs instead of humans.

3) Mesh magic and technology. There are a few cultures in the world that still do believe technology is magic. What if they’re right?

4) Use common sense when creating magic systems and supernatural beings. Then skew it just a little. Not too much that your readers won’t find it believable, but just enough to make them wonder. Perhaps your magic comes from the elements. You have a whole periodical table to play with instead of just using fire, earth, water, and air.

5) Remember your fantasy world has consequences in the normal world as we know it. If there’s some big magical event, it will have an effect on everything even if mundane humans don’t realize it’s magic. Earthquakes as magical backlashes? Species becoming extinct, diseases, the creation of deserts.


What do you like best about urban fantasy? Any tips you’d like to share?



Get yourselves a copy of the 13th Floor Collection now!







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I’ve been a big fan of Beth Revis since I first read ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. So when I heard that she would be at the Breathless Reads Tour in Montrose, CA with three other awesome YA Authors, I just had to go.

Yes, I’m that big of a fan girl. I drove 2 and a half hours straight after work, through traffic just to get a glimpse of her. And I’m so glad I did.

Although Beth’s stories are full of mystery and suspense, Beth herself is actually a barrel full of laughs. Her answers to the interview questions were hilarious and I loved the way she easily bantered with her fellow authors.

And she was so grateful when I sent her the link to the many pictures I had taken of her on the tour.

Ten months after I met her, I emailed Beth to ask for an interview. I realized too late that she would be busy with preparations for her upcoming book launch. I gave up on waiting for a response. But a few days after I had sent her the request, she emailed back with a yes. Sufficed to say, I was super thrilled.

Beth is a funny, smart and genuinely nice writer—and her books are just plain awesome. If you haven’t heard of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, A MILLION SUNS or SHADES OF EARTH, read my review.


Author’s Bio from her website

Beth Revis is the author of the NY Times Bestselling Across the Universe series, published by Razorbill/Penguin in the US andavailable in 17 countries. The first book in the trilogy, Across the Universe, is a “cunningly executed thriller” according to Booklist, and the second book, A Million Suns, was hailed by the LA Times as “a fast-paced, action-packed follow-up.” The final book of the trilogy, Shades of Earth, will be released in early 2013.

A former teacher, Beth lives in rural North Carolina with her husband and dog. Her goals include travelling around the world in 80 days, exploring the moon, and finding Narnia.

Blog | Twitter | Facebook | GoodReads

Beth is represented by Merrilee Heifetz at Writers House.

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The Awesome Beth Revis

1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself. 

  1. My shoulders are double jointed.
  2. I have one thumb shorter than the other.
  3. I name my pets are characters in books.

2. What books and movies inspired your love for Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Would you ever consider writing in another genre?

 I think the biggest influence on my writing sci fi came from watching the Joss Whedon show, Firefly. I loved everything about it, even though I felt that I was the kind of person who didn’t like sci fi. Watching that show made me realize that sci fi doesn’t have to be all-science, all-the-time.

I don’t think I’ll write anything outside of fantasy or sci-fi…I always want there to be a chance for things to blow up!


3. What’s the most unusual job you had before you became a full time writer? What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

I don’t know! I had very boring jobs. But I always took writing seriously, even when I was young and probably should have been a little less serious.


4. Where did you get the idea to write Across the Universe? Did you always know it would be a trilogy?

I started writing Across the Universe based on the idea of a mystery, where the narrating character has something to hide. And I definitely did not know it would be a trilogy—I didn’t know that until a few days before it sold!


5. Which of the three books did you enjoy writing the most? Which one gave you the most trouble?

I enjoyed writing AtU the best—it was fun, and there were no pressures or restraints or deadlines. Shades of Earth, on the other hand, tried to kill me and eat my soul.

6. Your books switch between two POV’s: Amy’s and Elder’s. Which POV did you find the easiest to write?

Honestly, I liked them both. It was fun to explore their different mindsets, and I never felt as if one was better than the other.

7. Your descriptions of Godspeed were so efficiently woven into the story, it was just the perfect blend of technology and setting. Did you have to do a lot of research to come up with the design or layout of the spaceship?

I mostly had to research why we didn’t have the technology I wanted for the story. For example, we don’t have cryogenic freezing now because cell membranes burst. So I invented the blue goo to prevent that.

8. If you could spend one day with any character in your series, who would it be?

Harley—he’s just so much fun, and I love seeing artists work!


9. If your books were to be made into a movie, which scene would you be most interested in seeing live on the big screen?

Oh—such a good question! Hmmm…I think probably the moment when Amy and Elder land on Centauri-Earth.

10. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?

It took me ten years—and ten unpublished novels—before the eleventh novel sold in the eleventh year of writing. So I think the coolest thing is the incredible sense of validation it’s given me.

11. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

It’s pretty normal—just wake up at noon, drink some coffee, and then figure out the best way to slaughter characters and blow shizz up. Normal, like I said.

12.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  Any hobbies, sports, or crafts you like to spend time on?

Reading! I’m really a nerd, through-and-through. So reading and writing are my top two occupations. I also love to travel.

13.  Are you currently working on any other projects?

I am! But they’re very secret and I can’t say anything else about them.

14.  What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

Don’t give up. It’s so trite, but so true.

15.  What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

Your imagination is the last place where magic is real. Hold onto that.



Thanks, Beth, for that wonderful interview!

Tune in again on Friday. I’ll be giving away a copy of Beth Revis’s ACROSS THE UNIVERSE!



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The first time I saw Jennifer Bosworth, I thought she was an actress. With her charming smile and her classic good looks, it’s easy to assume she’s a Hollywood star. So I was a bit confused when I saw her sitting comfortably beside other writers at the SCBWI Westside Schmooze. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she was a soon to be published YA author.

Jennifer Bosworth, Struck

With YA Author Jennifer Bosworth,

at her STRUCK book launch on May 12, 2012

That was two years ago. A year ago, I got to see her shine at her book launch on May 12th. Jennifer talked about how she’d started writing 9 years ago. Her first book was a combination of every story idea she ever had, and ran about 800 pages. She’s learned a lot about writing since then , and is very generous with sharing tips and techniques with everyone.

She’s so generous in fact, that she and fellow author Leigh Bardugo came up with a spectacular workshop for our group, CBWLA, where they shared writing/publishing information, tips and techniques every aspiring author should know.

If you haven’t heard of Jennifer and her awesome book STRUCK, check out my review.

Without further delay, I present the beautiful Jennifer Bosworth.


Author’s Bio from her website

Jennifer Bosworth was born in Price, Utah, a small, coal-mining town in the desert. As a kid, her favorite thing to do was roam alone through the barren hills and tell herself stories. As an adult, she continues to do the same thing, only now she’s roaming the streets of Los Angeles, her favorite city in the world.

Jennifer attended college at the University of Utah, where she later taught continuing education classes on writing horror, fantasy, and science fiction.

Struck (FSG/Macmillan) is Jennifer’s first published novel. She is represented by Jamie Weis Chilton of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Jennifer is the writer half of a writer/director team with her husband, Ryan Bosworth.

Jennifer Bosworth

The Beautiful Jennifer Bosworth

 1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself.

1. I’ve been in a fist fight; 2. I’ve wake boarded in a canal, behind a jeep; 3. I recently went to a Hollywood holiday party and got the stink eye from Gary Shandling, who apparently didn’t like my dance moves. Whatever, Shandling. Whatever!

2. What’s the one New Year’s resolution you’d like to be able to fulfill this year?

Write two books. Wait, that’s two resolutions! Also, I’d like to go part-time vegetarian.

3. You could easily be mistaken for a famous Hollywood actress. J  If you could be the lead in any movie, which movie would you pick?

Anything starring Cate Blanchett. She’s my favorite! I want to be Galadriel!

4. What’s the most unusual job you had before you became a full time writer?

I did a short stint as a phlebotomist, the people who take your blood at the hospital.

5. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

I wanted to be a writer before I actually knew how to read. My dad told me epic, serialized bedtime stories when I was a kid, and that instilled a love of story in me from an early age. I wanted to be able to do what my dad did, create a world you could lose yourself in . . . and get paid for doing it.

6. What books inspired your love for writing?

All Stephen King novels, but his Dark Tower series, and the novel he co-wrote with Peter Straub, “The Talisman,” were my biggest influences. They were just so weird and surreal. They warped my mind in a good way.

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Authors Leigh Bardugo and Jennifer Bosworth, with CBWLA officers

 7. That Mia Price is a lightning addict is such a cool concept.  Where did you get the story idea for STRUCK?

I started out writing about a human lightning rod, but when I did some research and learned about the man who held the world record for lightning strikes survived, the path of the story changed. This man had been struck by lightning seven times, but he refused to quit his job as a park ranger. Someone else might have gotten a different job, one with a roof over their head, but not this guy. So I started to wonder if maybe he liked being struck by lightning . . . or maybe he needed it, began to crave the energy in a storm, and it became like a drug for him. Keep in mind, this is all in my imagination. I doubt this man liked being struck by lightning. Still, the strange details of his real life story sparked the idea for my lightning addict.

8. If you could spend one day with any character in your novel, who would it be?

Probably Katrina. We’d get into lots of trouble together. She’s a bad, bad girl.

9. Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a pantser at heart, but I’m trying to become a plotter. Saves time on revisions. But the reason I love pantsing is because you get to tell yourself a story, and it’s just more fun that way.

10. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?

Honestly, the coolest thing is when someone who loved your book contacts you and lets you know. That’s an amazing feeling, to know you created something that is out there reaching people, getting into their heads, living their lives with them for a while. Your story becomes a part of them.

11. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

When I’m doing a first draft, I get up and start writing immediately. Scratch that. I make coffee, and then start. Coffee is the ritual.

12. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  Any hobbies, sports, or crafts you like to spend time on?

I’m a wanderer. I like to take my dog for long walks and listen to audiobooks. So much of my work life is sedentary, but I’m a nervous Nelly and need to move around a lot. So whenever I’m not writing, reading, or watching TV or movies, I like to walk, walk, walk.

13.  Are you currently working on any other projects?

I am . . . and the announcement about said project is coming soon…

14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

Write the book that only you can write. Most writers spend a while imitating their favorite authors, learning the craft, but at some point the training wheels have to come off and you need to truly put yourself into your book so that people can see your unique point of view. When that happens, you get an agent and you sell a book. Simple as that.

My second piece of advice is to remember to enjoy writing. This is a tough career. It doesn’t pay much for most of us, and it comes with a lot of pressure and criticism, and a lot more forums for negativity than there used to be. If you don’t enjoy the work, there’s no point in doing it.

15. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

When I was a teenager, I was impervious to advice from adults. My advice to all young readers is to remember that the most important thing you can spend your youth doing is finding out who you are, what you believe, and what you want. The rest is just details.


Thanks, Jennifer, for that wonderful interview!

Tune in again on Friday. I’ll be giving away a copy of Jennifer Bosworth’s STRUCK!


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I first met Gretchen McNeil in October, 2011 at her Stages on Pages YA Tour  at Vromans.

With Author Gretchen McNeil at her TEN book launch

Gretchen was bubbling with energy when she spoke about her affinity for the stage during the panel. I thought it was so cool that she was a trained opera soprano and a singer for the L.A. based circus troupe, Cirque Berzerk. I was also very intrigued by the teen exorcist concept for her debut novel, POSSESS.

Since then, I’ve bumped into Gretchen at various SCBWI events, and book signings. Most recently, I had the pleasure of attending her book launch for her latest suspense novel, TEN.

And now I’ll train the spotlight on POSSESS & TEN’s talented author, Gretchen McNeil.


Author’s Bio from her website

 Singer ~ Writer ~ Clown

I write.  Scary stuff, mostly. My YA horror/paranormal POSSESS debuted with Balzer and Bray for HarperCollins in 2011.  My second novel, TEN – YA horror/suspense about ten teens trapped on an island with a serial killer – will be released September 18, 2012, also from Balzer and Bray.

I’m a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4’s Code Monkeys and I currently sing with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. I’m a founding member of vlog group theYARebels where I can be seen as “Monday” and an active member of both The Enchanted Inkpot, a group blog of YA and middle grade fantasy writers, and The Apocalypsies, a group blog of 2012 children’s book debuts.


 The Talented Gretchen McNeil


1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself.

Despite currently girliness, I was a huge tomboy growing up.  My dog is named after Mozart.  I am a massive San Francisco Giants fan.

2. A genie has granted you three wishes. What would these wishes be?

The continued ability to do what I love: write awesome stories that people want to buy.  A long healthy life for my friends and family.  Universal tolerance of religion, race, gender and sexual orientation.

3. What books and movies inspired your love for horror/suspense?

The most influential books in this genre were the ones I devoured in high school: Christopher Pike and Agatha Christie, mixed with a heavy does of gothic like LeFanu, DuMaurier, Shelley, Poe, Collins and the Brontes.

4. Why do you love writing scary books? Would you ever consider writing a book in another genre?

Oh, I have!  My first book was actually a rom com, and I have a YA historical spy adventure sitting on a shelf somewhere.  But I think I’m drawn to horror and suspense because I love crafting tension: the setting, the tone, atmosphere – it all combines to create a visceral reaction of fear in the reader.

5. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

I started writing about five years ago. I was going through a difficult time in my personal life, and I was floundering a bit. I woke up one day and said, “I’m going to write a novel!”  I did.  And it was horrible.  But I got addicted to the process of storytelling and before I knew it, I was reading every book on writing I could get my hands on, and plotting my next book.  That book landed me an agent. 


6. Does your training as an opera singer ever influence your writing?

 In several ways, I think. First, the idea of having to WORK at your artistic endeavor is very important.  Singing – like writing – is hard work. You’re always improving, changing, adapting.  You can never just sit back and feel like you’ve made it.  Second, performing opera is storytelling to the extreme.  You’re telling a story in a foreign language, and in a mode that is slightly archaic to the modern viewer.  It’s important to really show the story, your character, her motivations, her obstacles, and her actions to overcome them.  It’s the same in writing, just on the page instead of on the stage.


7. Do you have a playlist when you’re writing? What were some of the songs you listened to while writing POSSESSS or TEN?

 Actually, I can’t write to music!  I know, crazy.  But my musician’s brain kicks in and suddenly I’m focused on the music, not the writing.  Instead, my favorite thing to write to is sports.  It’s like slightly interactive background noise.


8. Where did you get the story idea for your first novel, POSSESS?

I wanted to write something scary and the thing that scares me the most is the idea of demonic possession and exorcism. I started doing some research on it, and BOOM!  The plot bunnies got to work.


9. What inspired you to write TEN?

My editor, actually.  We were talking about what my next project should be, and she mentioned that one of her favorite things about my style is my ability to write scary, suspenseful novels.  Then I started thinking about why I enjoy writing that genre.  Basically, I’m a junky for a good mystery and anyone who can spin me along on a tenuous thread of suspense and expectation, turning the screws and upping the ante with every page.  Agatha Christie and Christopher Pike were huge influences on my writing and clean, direct style of storytelling.  And of course, the masterful cinematic storytelling of Alfred Hitchcock.   Put those pieces together and you have TEN!


10. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?

Publication is a tough road.  I just want to put that out there.  The book that landed me an agent didn’t actually sell, so I had to write another – POSSESS – before I actually had a publication deal. 

As far as my favorite thing about being an author?  Definitely the other authors I get to meet and hang out with!

11. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

Until recently, I worked full time, so my writing “day” was really the two hours or so I could squeeze into an evening.  No rituals or quirks, really.  I’m more untilitarian.


12.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  Any hobbies, sports, or crafts you like to spend time on?

I’m a social kinda girl.  So I’m out a lot with friends and family.  I also love live theater, opera, concerts, museums, and road trips.

13. Are you currently working on any other projects?

My next book (Fall 2013) is another stand alone, sci-fi horror this time.  It’s called 3:59 and it’s about two girls who are the same girl in different dimensions, who discover that their worlds connect every twelve hours – at 3:59 – for one minute.  When they decide to switch places for a day, all hell breaks loose. Literally.

After that I just sold a two book series, also to Balzer + Bray, for 2014 and 2015.  GET EVEN and GET DIRTY are books one and two in the Don’t Get Mad series about four very different girls who have formed a secret revenge society, getting back at bullies and mean girls who have terrorized their classmates, which all goes well until one of their targets turns up dead and the society is implicated in the death.


14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

Get used to criticism, because you’re going to get a lot of it.

15.  What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

You can do anything you put your mind to. I honestly believe that.  I decided I wanted to be an author.  I worked at it, I learned from my failures, I adapted, I improved.  It’s not easy, but if you’re willing to put the work in, I firmly believe that you can accomplish anything.


Visit me again on Friday. I’ll be giving away a copy of Gretchen McNeil’s POSSESS!

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I first met Jenn Reese last February, when she and author Sara Wilson Etienne had a book signing at Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach.

With Author Jenn Reese, at her book signing, February, 2012

I was ecstatic to discover that Jenn Reese was a big fan of Nickelodeon’s The Last Airbender series. She admitted that her book, Above World, was in fact inspired by the show. Being a big fan of the Last Airbender series myself, I felt an instant kinship with Jenn.

I was happily surprised to discover that Jenn and I shared another common passion–martial arts, and Sci-Fi/Fantasy. It’s no wonder that I enjoyed reading ABOVE WORLD as much as Jenn enjoyed writing it.

And now I’ll train the spotlight on ABOVE WORLD’s amazing author, Jenn Reese


 Author’s Bio from her website

Jenn Reese writes science fiction and fantasy adventure stories for readers of all ages. She has published short stories online and in various anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning Paper Cities. Her first novel, Jade Tiger, is an action-adventure kung fu romance for teens and adults. She’s currently at work on a middle-grade adventure series called Above World for Candlewick Press. She lives in Los Angeles where she studies martial arts, plays video games, and dreams of rain.

The Talented Jenn Reese

 1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself.

Only three weird things? It’ll be hard to choose…

 –        I do voice over for an animated web series called Hey Wordy, where I play a young dictionary trying to learn new words in different languages.

–        I once took a workshop in monkey kung fu that was so difficult I could barely walk for two weeks after. The guy who taught the workshop was the inspiration for Monkey Fist on the animated TV show Kim Possible.

–        In my high school yearbook, the phrase under my photo says “GUT & TOE” because I wanted to be a particle physicist. (They stand for “Grand Unified Theory” and “Theory of Everything.”) I like to think there’s an alternate dimension version of me that works at CERN.

2. What books and movies inspired your love for Sci-Fi or Fantasy?

I read voraciously as a kid, mostly Newbery books. Some of my favorite SF/F books were: A Wrinkle in Time, The Twenty-One Balloons, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Phantom Tollbooth, and A Wizard of Earthsea. They sparked a life-long love of speculative fiction in all forms.

As for movies, I was the perfect age (seven) to see Star Wars on the big screen when it came out. Princess Leia was the first woman I’d ever seen in an action role, and I worshipped her. I loved sf/f TV shows, too: Battlestar Galactica, Tales of the Gold Monkey, The Greatest American Hero, Star Trek, you name it! If it was science fiction or fantasy, I consumed it.

3. What day jobs did you have before you became a full time author?

I’ve mostly worked on the production side at various publishing companies. I’ve done graphic design, database design, web design, and general project management. I love to solve problems, find efficiency paths, and marry form and function whenever possible.

 But I should clarify that I’m not yet a full-time writer. I currently work part-time for the Lambda Literary Foundation, a nonprofit that supports and promotes LGBT authors and literature, and I run a freelance book cover design company called Tiger Bright Studios. Some day I might be a full-time writer, but I’m certainly not there yet!

4. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

I didn’t start writing until I was twenty-five, and I didn’t start taking myself seriously until long after that.  I wrote short stories initially, and even attended the six-week-long Clarion workshop in 1999. But writing was still a hobby. I fit writing into the white spaces of my life, and when I got busy at work, whole months would go by without any new words. I managed to write my first novel in 2003, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I finished my second.

But then one day, a switch flipped. I’d been working at a start-up animation company, sometimes pulling 18-hour days and working every weekend. A year went by and I realized that I’d been spending all my time and effort and passion on other people’s dreams. I decided then and there that my dreams deserved just as much respect.

Since then, I’ve shaped my life around writing, not the other way around. Telling stories is my passion and writing makes me happy. I just had to give myself permission to consider those things valuable and to make them a priority.

5. What inspired you to write your first novel, JADE TIGER?

I’d started many novels over the years, but all of them had petered out within a few chapters. I had begun to think that writing a whole novel was an impossible task.  In retrospect, I was putting too much pressure on myself. I wanted to write (the fantasy equivalent of) the Great American Novel, and of course I was failing.

Meanwhile, I had been taking kempo for a year and a half and I had fallen head-over-heels in love with martial arts. I was watching documentaries, reading websites, visiting other schools, and taking workshops whenever I could find them. In order to get over my block about writing a novel, I told myself it could be about martial arts and I could put as much of my passion as I wanted into the story – including a rather direct homage to Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.

And what do you know, it worked! Writing the book for myself, with no rules except to indulge every passionate whim, got me over that impossible barrier.  Since then, I let myself put as much of whatever I’m in love with at the time into the book I’m writing.


6. Like Shan, your main character in JADE TIGER, you are also a martial artist. Do you have a favorite fighting style or weapon?

Of the styles I’ve studied, kung fu is my favorite. I’m not much of a fighter (if you watched me spar, you would alternate between laughing and cringing on my behalf), but I am in love with forms. Forms are a little bit like dance routines – a specific set of movements that train your body in a certain way…while simultaneously looking awesome. They require strength and skill and precision that I can only dream of some day attaining. But even when you do them badly, they still bring together your  Mind, Body, and Spirit like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I never feel more whole than when I’m practicing a form.

But oh, how I love weapons, too! I’m decent with a pair of daggers, the stave, the spear, and the Chinese broadsword. Of those, I think the staff is my favorite – but only because I’ve finally started hitting my imaginary targets more frequently than I hit myself.

7. Do you try to incorporate your own knowledge of kung fu when you write your stories?

Always. Kung fu isn’t a hobby for me, it’s a way of life. Even when I’m not making it to the studio, the philosophy behind kung fu stays with me in all things. It has fundamentally changed my life in almost every respect, and there’s no way I could write anything that wasn’t touched by it in some way.

Also, I love writing fight scenes.

8. Where did you get the story idea for ABOVE WORLD?

A long time ago, I wanted to write a short story about a spaceship captain and I was trying to think of what sort of person might be naturally good at navigating in space. The answer that popped into my head surprised me: a mermaid! That’s how I got the idea of combining mythology with science fiction. I also knew I wanted the book to feel like an epic fantasy adventure, the kind I gulped down as kid. I thought that approach – along with an emphasis on bioengineering instead of spaceships — might win over some readers who didn’t think they liked science fiction.

9. In ABOVE WORLD, humans have biologically engineered themselves in order to survive the harsh climate changes in their world. You’ve created a fascinating setting for your story. Could you give us a few tips or techniques for world-building?

 Here are two aspects of my world-building process that I’ve been spending more and more time on lately:

 1. I try not to make assumptions about my created societies. I don’t assume the men are the warriors and leaders, the political structure is a monarchy, or that everyone eats the same thing for dinner. (Or even that they have dinner.) The first thing that pops into my head is often consciously or unconsciously based on my personal experience with our world, my unconscious biases, or worse, based on stereotypes. I try to think about my created society’s history, geography, and economy. What sorts of beliefs and traditions truly make sense for these fictional people? I extrapolate as best I can, then question every decision.

 2. Omissions are also decisions, and I try to make them carefully. We see a lot of movies where all the characters are heterosexual white people… even when the stories take place in fantasy settings or on other planets. Our world is nothing like that, so why are those places? If I leave out people of color, women in active roles, people with different gender identities or sexual orientations, differently abled people, the old or very young, etc. from my stories, I am making a lot of decisions about my world and its created society. I try to make these choices deliberately, so I know what I’m doing and why.

10. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?

My path to publication was pretty straightforward if you ignore the first 10 years where I wrote short stories for adult science fiction and fantasy markets. Once I wrote Above World, I went through rounds of revisions with trusted friends and colleagues (most of whom I had met during my short story phase), researched agents, queried agents, landed an agent, revised again, and went on submission. The book sold within a few months in a two-book deal to Candlewick. Just before Above World was released, we closed the deal on the third book, and I officially get to write a trilogy!

I worked really hard on my revisions and my agent research, but having incredible friends was my ace in the hole. They gave me a lot of advice and a ton of support, and cheered the loudest when things started happening. I am not a big fan of networking in order to get ahead, but I’m utterly devoted to the idea of making friends.

11. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

In the perfect week, I write five out of seven days. The other two are designated non-writing days, and usually correspond to the days I spend hours in traffic commuting to and from my part-time job. On writing days, I’m proud if I start writing by 9am and go until noon. Then I spend the afternoons logging job hours, doing freelance cover design, and trying to tackle my inbox.

 As for rituals, I don’t have many. I’m addicted to Scrivener, which is probably my biggest crutch, and I usually listen to a playlist of carefully selected movie soundtracks. I can’t write to anything with lyrics, and some days even soundtracks are too distracting. Then I fall back to my White Noise app, where crashing waves, a thunderous rainstorm, or a crackling fire can really help me focus.

12.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  Any hobbies, sports, crafts you like to spend time on?

I used to have a whole host of hobbies, but I cut most of them out when I decided to focus on writing. Nowadays my leisure time is spent reading, playing video games (World of Warcraft, mostly, but I still love my PS3), and bugging my cats. In the future, I want to spend more time drawing. I wanted to be an artist when I was a little girl, and that dream still smolders.

13. Are you currently working on any other projects?

I just turned in the third and final book in the Above World trilogy, and have started work on an unsold YA fantasy. There will be both martial arts and kissing.

14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

Forge strong friendships whenever you can, regardless of whether you think the other person can help you with your career. If they’re a good friend, then they’ll help you… even if it’s in ways you don’t expect.

15. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

My advice is always “Write your passion,” but I like this paraphrase of a Bruce Lee quote better: “Take what is useful, discard what is not, make what remains your own.”

Thank you so much for the great questions, Nutschell – I had a great time answering them.



Visit me again on Friday. I’ll be giving away a copy of Jenn Reese’s ABOVE WORLD!

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I met Marie Lu for the first time at the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in Redondo Beach. Two author friends, who knew Marie, invited me to her book launch for Legend. It was a great launch, and Marie was a generous host. She provided her guests with refreshments and giveaways. (I actually won a UK Arc of the book :) )

With YA Author Marie Lu at her Legend Book Launch, December 2011

 Marie talked about how she got into writing. I was amazed when I found out that she’d started writing stories when she was in High School. Like everyone else, however, she put in 10 years of hard work before she reaped the rewards with the Legend trilogy.

I thought Marie was the coolest person ever, after hearing her talk. I was always so happy to see her at the various book tours and panels I attended, and I’m definitely looking forward to Prodigy!

If you haven’t heard of Marie Lu and her awesome book, Legend, check out my review.

Without further ado, I present the beautiful Marie Lu.



 Author’s Bio from her website

I write young adult novels, and have a special love for dystopian books. Ironically, I was born in 1984. I like food, fighter jets, afternoon tea, happy people, electronics, the interwebz, cupcakes, pianos, bright colors, rain, Christmas lights, sketches, animation, dogs, farmers’ markets, video games, and of course, books. I suck at working out. I also get lost very easily, but am a halfway decent driver. At least, I like to think so. :)

I left Beijing for the States in 1989 and went off to college at the University of Southern California. California weather sweet-talked me into sticking around, so I’m currently in Pasadena with my boyfriend, two Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and a chihuahua mix. In my past life, I was an art director in the video game industry, but now I write full-time.


The Beautiful Marie Lu, photo by Paul Gregory


1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself.

I was bitten by a rat when I was three. On my eyelid. I know.

I’m slightly ambidextrous; for some reason, I’m left-handed when I eat, throw things, and ride bicycles.

I witnessed the Tiananmen Square student protests when I was five years old.

2. What books and movies inspired your love for Sci-Fi or Fantasy?

My first introduction to the Fantasy genre was Mattimeo, by Brian Jacques. That book still has a very special place in my heart. I loved a lot of 80s fantasy movies, too—The Dark Crystal, Legend (ha!), Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, etc. I can’t remember what my first introduction to Sci-Fi was, but I love Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card, as well as 1984 (George Orwell) and The Giver (Lois Lowry). Blade Runner and The Matrix are two Sci-Fi film favorites from my youth.

3. What day jobs did you have before you became a full time author?

Before I became a full-time writer, I worked in the video game industry as an artist and art director. I went to work for Disney Interactive Studios right out of college. It was extremely fun—I still dabble in making games (we’re making a Facebook game for Legend called Cities of Legend) and still play a bunch. Assassin’s Creed is my current favorite game franchise.

4. Does your skill as an artist or video game designer ever come in handy when you’re writing? How?

It definitely helps me out of writer’s block! Before I start writing any story, I have to sketch out my characters first. Otherwise, I can’t really get a handle on who they are. I also like putting in game-esque elements into parts of my stories, such as the Skiz fights in Legend.

5. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

I always wrote for fun ever since I was five or six years old, but I started writing seriously when I was fourteen, when I saw a newspaper article about a young author named Amelia Atwater-Rhodes who had gotten her first book published when she was only fifteen. That was when I realized real people wrote books!

6. Why do you think YA is so popular? Would you ever consider writing a book in another genre—a middle grade book, or picture book for instance?

YA is pure fun to me; I think most YA is very accessible, and the characters are at a very interesting age where they experience so much change. I’ve definitely thought about venturing into picture books, although I think writing picture books is extremely challenging—it might be the hardest category in the world to write for.


Legend Author Marie Lu, photo by Paul Gregory

7. What inspired you to write Legend?

One day in 2009, I was lying on the carpet in my living room (this is how I daydream), and the movie version of Les Miserables was on. The Jean Valjean vs. Javert concept started me thinking, and the central idea for Legend came almost right away: a teenage version of Les Miserables, with a famous teen criminal vs. a teen prodigy detective.

8. Day and June are both prodigies and have some really cool skills and abilities. What skill/abilitiy would you love to have? (Ninja-esque abilities? Computer-like math skills?)

I pretty much created June to have all of the skills and abilities that I wish I could have! I really wish I was excellent at math and programming; if I were, I’m pretty sure I would have gone into astronomy (a field I really love). I also wouldn’t mind having Day’s parkour skills.

9. You’ve sold the film rights for your book. (Hurray!) Which scene from the book are you most interested in seeing live on the big screen?

This is a hard one to answer—but I’d really love to see the Skiz fight between June and Kaede!

10. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?

I wrote four unpublished manuscripts before I wrote Legend, so it was a long road for me! The coolest thing is being able to write full-time. It’s mind-boggling to me that I get paid to make up stuff. It really is a dream job. I still can’t believe it! I also love hearing from readers. Their emails absolutely make my day, every day.

11. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

I’m very much a morning person, and I like to get my writing done before about 1pm. Any writing I do in the afternoons tends to be absolute crap. I also need to listen to music while I write—but only music without lyrics. Lyrics distract me.

12.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  Any hobbies, sports, crafts you like to spend time on?

I love reading and drawing, of course, and both making and playing games. My boyfriend and I occasionally fight over our PS3. I need my Assassin’s Creed fix, dang it—he can play Battlefield 3 . . . but only after I’m done.

13. Are you currently working on any other projects?

Yes, I’m working on a new story idea that I’m hoping to tackle fully after the Legend trilogy is finished. This one will probably be fantasy.

14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

Be brave. Don’t be afraid to write (and toss) a bad/unpublishable book, or even 4. Or 10. Have faith that you can get published someday, but be brave enough to learn how to write better each time you try. When agents and editors reject your manuscript, 98% of the time the fault can be found in your manuscript. Don’t blame the market or the publishers. Just be brave enough to write a better manuscript.

15. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

 YOLO! Seriously. You only live once, so don’t be afraid to pursue what you really want to do with your life. Live without regrets.


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Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am most eager to welcome Sharon Hamilton, author of the military romance SEAL Brotherhood series and other paranormal romance novels.

You can also find Sharon sharing her writing wisdom and blogging at

 Welcome, Sharon.!


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

Author Sharon Hamilton

I had a very successful career in Real Estate for 25 years before becoming a writer. My manager was always accusing me of making the secretaries cry with my memos (not a good thing). Now I get to do it and be paid for it!

I always loved writing, and knew even as a young girl I would some day be a writer. But life intervened. Love writing paranormal, but also contemporary military heroes with my SEAL Brotherhood series.

I love organic vegetable and flower gardening, and have had a large garden for almost every year for the past 35 years. I also used to earn ribbons at the Sonoma County Fair for my Santa Rosa Plum jam and Plum-Apricot jam.

Sharon with other Navy Mom Jody working on Christmas pillow cases for Wounded Warriors.

I love to do anything that is crafty: collage, decorating blue and green eggs from my chickens, quilting, needlepoint, and knitting. If I owned a craft shop I would never write. Have to be careful not to get distracted there.

On Workspace

1.  Where do you do most of your writing?

I like to write on the leather chaise, overlooking my garden. Upstairs has a fireplace, and my favorite knitted afghan. Also away from distractions of downstairs.

Sharon’s leather chaise, her favorite place to write

A shot of Sharon’s lovely garden


2.  Where did you get your desk?  How did you go about arranging your work area?

My desk area downstairs is for working on the business side of writing, paying bills, writing emails or sometimes blogs.

Sharon at her desk in the writing room

3.  What are some important things on your desk?  Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

Love my Jimmy Thomas calendar from last year. Also have my book covers done on canvas. Yum!!  Costco does it very cheaply. Had posters made of them as well, and had JT sign them so I could give them away as swag.


4.  What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

Upstairs is light and bright. Music resonates well in the tall 24’ ceilings. I listen to Sirius, usually to the Spa Channel, sometimes Watercolors or Coffee House. I also have about 30 days of music on my computer and I listen with headphones if I’m having trouble concentrating.

I always write to music. Music puts me in the mood. In the winter, I write late at night by candlelight.

5. What’s your writing beverage?  What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

Decaf coffee in the AM. Ice water at night. I’m off caffeine, all sugar and flour, so have no sodas. Do miss my strawberry margaritas, though.


Sharon’s commercial looking house rebuilt after the fire

On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author?  Who inspired you to write?

I don’t have any complete favorites. I graze. Kressley Cole, Darynda Jones, Diana Gabaldon, JR Ward, to name a few. I also love James Elroy and Anne Rice (the early books and her erotica).


2. What’s your typical day as a writer like?  Do you have any writing related rituals or quirks?

I like to write when the house is quiet. Usually morning or late at night. I write to music, and can write in a coffee house or restaurant very well. I like watching the people.

3.  Do you write everyday?  How many hours a day do you spend writing?  What are some of your worst writing distractions?

I must be ADD. I get distracted at Libraries because there’s too much going on there. That’s why instrumental music works to help me focus. Without it, I can’t get deep into the story, the emotions of the story.

My daily goal is 2000 words. I have done as many as 11,000 in one day – one time when I wrote for 24 hours straight.

4. Why do you write?

Absolutely my most favorite thing in the world to create a new story and see how the characters show up, play with each other. They become good friends I go back and visit day after day.


5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us?  How about a favorite writing quote?

Never give up. Never surrender! Keep writing. When you get rejected, keep writing. When you write something for a particular editor, and they reject it, keep writing. Write for contests. Write for critique partners. Don’t let any comment or review stop you.

Be patient with yourself. Practice self love/self care by encouraging yourself. Learn to discern what your voice is. Give the readers what they want. Listen to critiques but don’t take them to heart. Never believe the doubter in your head that says maybe you aren’t a good writer. Talent is overrated. It’s hard work, not talent that will make you a bestseller.


Sharon and husband Don,  at the “Afterlife” ball at the Julia Morgan Ballroom, San Francisco


Thanks, Sharon, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life.

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.




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I first met Sara at the SCBWI Westside Schmooze two years ago. Coordinators Lee and Rita had just announced Sara’s publishing deal for HARBINGER to the group and we all gave her a big applause and our hearty congratulations.

Since then,  I’ve bumped into her at several SCBWI-related events, including last year’s Summer conference.

With author Sara Wilson Etienne at the SCBWI Summer Conference Party 2011

Sara is one of the most active members of SCBWI-L.A. It was no wonder that the bookstore was overflowing with well-wishers, friends, and fans during her book launch last February.

The book launch was just the start of a busy year for Sara. She’s gone on a book tour, and has been invited to speak at several writing conferences, including SCBWI-L.A.’s Writer’s Day and RWA’s Passion and Prose Conference.

Thankfully, Sara has agreed to let me pester her with questions, despite her busy schedule. Her star has definitely risen and I’m lucky to be a witness to her many successes.

If you haven’t heard of Sara and her awesome book HARBINGER, check out my review here.

Without further ado, I present the imaginative and awesome Sara Wilson Etienne.


Author’s Bio from her website You can also find her at

I used to dream of being a marine biologist but quickly realized that I love fantasy more than fact.  Now I enjoy combining both to create stories that ask “What if?” I write in sunny California alongside my artist husband and my two dogs.

My favorite days are spent disappearing into different universes, whether it’s traveling with Dr. Who, popping into a parallel world with Diana Wynne Jones, writing my own stories, or just taking a nap.

Harbinger is my first novel.

Wanna say hi?

We’re waiting at

The Imaginative Sara Wilson Etienne

1. What were your favorite books growing up?

I gravitated towards books that helped me understand the world and decide who I wanted to be in it.  Daniel Pinkwater and Louis Sachar made fun of the seeming arbitrary rules of the adult world, and somehow made nonsensical sense of them. Madeleine L’Engle mixed science and magic. Tamora Pierce created women warriors. Roald Dahl gave power to the powerless.

I’ve always loved books that showed me what the world can be, rather than what it is.

2. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

I always loved telling stories and, of course, loved to read…but for a long time it didn’t occur to me that I could be a writer.  In college, I focused on biology, but I took creative writing and literature classes whenever I could fit them in around my science classes. My senior year in college, I needed to do a thesis project. I should’ve done some sort of field research, but instead I decided to write a book. What started out as a picture book about ecotourism quickly became a novel. (One that thankfully has never been published.)

Writing that changed everything. It was as if the world suddenly made sense to me. I loved writing and it felt right. From that point on, I looked on writing as a serious career.

3. Why do you think YA is so popular? Would you ever consider writing a book in another genre—a middle grade book, or picture book for instance?

People often read YA during a time in their lives when they’re looking for proof that they fit somewhere in the world. That there are other people like them. That there is more to life than high school. That, in effect, makes the YA genre full of powerful stories that have the ability to shape lives, show people choices they’ve never thought of, and perspectives they’ve never experienced.

And though my voice is currently tuned into YA, I’d definitely like to write for other genres. I love picture books…I think they’re a perfect format for some of the most extraordinary stories. I’ve studied them and tried my hand at writing them, but picture books are incredibly difficult to get right. Still, I know that someday I’ll have just the right story to tell!

4. What inspired you to write Harbinger?

My original inspiration was my college campus in Bar Harbor, Maine. After I graduated and moved to California, I just couldn’t get that place out of my head. All pine trees and rocky shores and storm waves crashing. There was this old house on campus where we used to hang out at night. The winding staircases, crazy passageways, and castle-like turrets were so creepy and beautiful. There was definitely a story in that place there and I set out to tell it.

5. Where did you get the (awesome) idea to use tarot cards in your novel?

I’m glad you liked them! The tarot cards snuck into a later draft. It’s hard to find a compelling way to deal with prophecies without just feeding your character information. So I was looking for some way other than diary entries or whispered warnings to tip Faye off.

And here comes the lesson about randomness and paying attention: A friend of mine gave me a business card they’d found that was based on a playing card. I thought it was such a cool idea and because my book at the time was called “The Harbinger” my mind immediately went to tarot cards. I cajoled my husband to make me business cards based on the Two of Swords, but with a Harbinger twist. As soon as I saw the result, I knew it was the perfect melding. And a great story device. Not to mention that tarot cards were a craze during the exact time that M.H.’s diary was written. So it was too good to pass up!

6. What is one personality trait that you share with your main character, Faye?

Her fear and pain. While I was writing Faye, I was dealing with my own doubts about myself as a writer and some difficult health problems. These manifested themselves in Faye originally as migraines (which I also suffered from) and then later as frightening visions.

Telling stories is a way that we make sense of our own lives. Giving ourselves powerful protagonists and satisfying endings give us the hope that we too can overcome our challenges. For me, writing was the best way of working through my own pain.

7. Tell us about your path to publication.

Well…writing the book and getting it published took me a full ten years. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote Harbinger countless times. Teaching myself to write–how to put together a novel–as I went. I got notes from my critique groups, went to conferences, met my agent at one, then rewrote my book a few more times, and finally sold it! Thinking back, I was pretty single-minded about the whole thing. Writing is the only career that’s ever felt really right, so I just kept on keeping on!

8. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

I like to write from late morning to early afternoon. Recently, I’ve been walking to a nearby café and that has the wonderful side benefit of letting me “prewrite” my scenes…visualizing moments that I think will bring the scene to life. When I finally sit down with my coffee and scone, I can dive into my work.

I also like to write to the Battlestar Galatica soundtrack. It has great tension and build-up, but is background enough for me to work. But for the most part, I try to stay flexible with my habits, so I don’t get hung up if I have to write at home or at a different time of day.

9. Where do you get your story ideas?

I get my ideas from the world around me: overheard conversations, news stories, places I travel. Over the course of years I pair up certain ideas in my head, they grow into stories and worlds. When I sit down to finally begin working on a book, I start with writing a synopsis or a vague outline. And go from there. I’m a huge rewriter, so I usually stumble through the beginning of my stories over and over until I hit the right tone or feel or world.

10. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?

I got insanely excited about having my book on library shelves. The library was my treasure trove growing up and the idea that readers will be discovering and checking out Harbinger for years to come gives my goosebumps!

11.  If you could have any job in the world (aside from being an author), what would it be?

A very bored scientist. Or lawyer. I’m pretty sure there are parallel-universe Sara’s out there doing those things right now. But I doubt they’re very happy.

12. Are you currently working on any other projects?

I’m working on a new book currently titled Unworthy with the same editor at Penguin/Putnam. It’ll be out Winter 2014. It’s a totally new world, with new characters, and, though I loved Harbinger, it’s been fun creating new stories!

13. You did an amazing job promoting your book. How did you come up with these ideas, and would you consider using the same promotional strategies for your next book?

Thanks! It was a lot of fun (and a lot of work) to create pieces of Harbinger outside the page. I have a hunch that each book requires its own approach.

The Harbinger inspired art, (which you can see at:

worked well because my main character, Faye, was an artist. It made sense on a lot of levels. Same thing with the creepy institutional nature of the Holbrook website and brochures. But I’m sure that as I start thinking of Unworthy in terms of promotion, it will have its own fun bits of inspiration.

One thing I’ll definitely do is another book trailer. It was super fun to see Harbinger come to life. You can see it here:

14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

Butt-in-chair. The only thing that makes someone a writer is writing.

Though…balancing it with the opposite is vital too. Don’t forget to get out of your writing cave sometimes and talk to other people who are doing what you’re doing. Writers conferences, critique groups, coffee shops, anything that reminds you that there’s a whole world of readers and writers out there who will be thrilled to get their hands on your story.

15.   What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

Find stories you love, let yourself live there for a while, then explore new ones. Don’t let yourself get sucked into the idea that you only like to read fantasy or mysteries or contemporary romance. A great story is a great story. Let stories open up the world for you, not narrow down.


Thanks for agreeing to do this interview Sara!

Tune in this Friday for the final installment of this month’s Spotlight Week. I’ll be giving away a copy of HARBINGER!

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I have yet to meet this author in person, but I feel like I’ve known him forever. Probably because he is one of the coolest, nicest, and most supportive bloggers out there.

Alex Cavanaugh is a true ninja captain, able to accomplish great feats. I don’t know how Alex does it, but he manages to comment on every single one of his bloggy friends’ posts, reply to the hundred comments left on his own blog, watch tons of movies, jam on his guitar, spend time with his loved ones, and come up with incredible Sci-Fi stories.

This guy is just plain awesome and I am so pleased that he has agreed to be on this month’s Spotlight Week!

Not only do I get to bug him with questions, I also get to wrangle an author photo from him (my greatest accomplishment to date).  Alex abhors pictures, but since he’s such a nice guy, he couldn’t say no to my earnest pleas.

So without further ado, I present an interview with the talented Mr. Alex Cavanaugh.


Author Bio

Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The author of Amazon Best Sellers, CassaStar and CassaFire, he lives in the Carolinas with his wife.

The Amazing Alex Cavanaugh, author of CassaStar and CassaFire

1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Rock star! I doubt I could’ve handled the lifestyle though.

2. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

I wrote some when I was younger, but I never took it seriously until I rewrote my first full-length story. (Which became CassaStar.) Didn’t know if I’d make it as an author but I had to try.

3. What’s the most unusual job you had before you became a full time writer?

I don’t know about unusual, but the worst was working at a car wash. Have you ever spent eight hours a day washing whitewalls? It’s awful!

4. What were your favorite books growing up?

I enjoyed Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, and I liked Ray Bradbury, Alan Dean Foster, and Tolkien.

5. What inspired you to write CassaStar?

I found the original version (written when I was a teen) and while the story was awful, the characters were strong. I rewrote it from scratch and only one scene survived.

6. Which of your characters, either in CassaStar or CassaFire, can you most relate to?

I guess it would have to be Byron. We’re both perfectionists and loners.

7. Tell us about your path to publication.

I started querying some of the bigger science fiction publishers and then as rejections came in, I worked my way down the list to smaller ones. Took me about eight months before I signed a contract.

8. How has your life changed since you got published?

For one thing, I’m online now! Blogging and online activities take several hours of my day. But the best part is that I’ve made so many friends.

9. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

I tend to write in the evening after jamming on my guitar for a while. Only ritual is music must be playing while I write. Oh, and I need a box of Hot Tamales!

10. What is it about the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy that draws you in?

The escape, pure and simple. They represent worlds beyond our own daily grind.

11. Where do you get your story ideas?

I credit my avid movie and TV watching. I knew staring at the screen for hours would eventually pay off!

12. Are you currently working on any other projects?

Yes I am working on the first draft of CassaStorm, the final book in the series.

13.  What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

Be open to any and all ideas.

14. Any writing tips for writers who wish to write in the sci-fi/fantasy genre?

Understand all of the different genres. And get good at world-building!

15. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

Don’t text and drive, kids! Seriously, believe that you can do anything. You never know unless you give it your all.


Thanks for agreeing to do this interview Alex!

Tune in next Friday for the final installment of this month’s Spotlight Week. I’ll be giving away Alex’s awesome books!

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